Wow, just got back from an amazing time in Nagoya, the fourth largest city in Japan, following Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka! It`s only my second time; the first time I didn`t find it that impressive, but this time it was a blast!
I went down Saturday night to do dinner and karaoke with some Japanese Exchange Teacher friends. It was my first time doing "real" karaoke. I did it in Kumamoto with Diana, but only half an hour, one-on-one, no drinks. This was full-blown, six people crammed in a little room singing their lungs out for three hours with nomihoudai, "all you can drink." That last part didn`t interest me, but I learned some new fun songs and got to sing a few of my favorites and hang out with some old friends I haven`t seen for a long time. So that was good. But I guess I keep learning the same lesson about myself, which is that no matter how good the company is, loud, crazy parties that last late into the night are not my favorite way to have fun. They leave me feeling tired and a little rung out in the morning. That`s just my personality, nothing more, I think. I prefer hanging out with just one or two other people, walking through quiet nature or seeing cultural shows. Which is what I did on Sunday.
Sunday morning I went to Mustard Seed Church in Nagoya with a friend of mine I met at the Christian conference last weekend. His name is Taesung/Taisei Kim and he`s Korean/Japanese. OK, I have to pause for a second to explain that. In America we have "Chinese American" or "Mexican American" etc, which I guess are new terms in and of themselves. Not long ago (and you still hear these words today), people were lumped together as "Asian American" or "Hispanic American," etc, even though you`d be hard pressed to find a first generation Chinese and Japanese who could relate to each other any better than a Dutch and Greek person. The languages are different (not even related), culture, religion, food, clothing, style, just about everything you can think of. Only I think the Greek and Dutch people might actually do better because at least they are both a democracy and semi-capitalist economy, have somewhat of a common history in recent years, share a modern culture and have a similar education, whereas the only cultural ties between Japan and China ended over a thousand years ago. About the only thing the average Chinese and Japanese people meeting on the street in American could relate on right off the bat might be Disney songs. It really irritates me when people act like there`s no difference at all. What, you mean Japanese people don`t speak Chinese? Not unless they chose to study it in college! They speak Japanese for Pete’s sake. Ugg...
OK, so I used to be one of those ignorant people too (though I never thought the Japanese spoke Chinese as a first language). But the point of this is to explain that America, as ignorant as it can be of other cultures, at least understands and accepts the concept of dual or multiple ethnicity. That isn`t the same as dual nationality or citizenship, but it`s more than a lot of places have. Japan has no such concept. You can not be "Brazilian Japanese" or anything like that. There are families who have been living in Japan for generations, who were born and raised in Japan and attended only Japanese schools, speak only Japanese, have never been to any other country, and have Japanese names (in addition to their foreign one). But because they never changed their last name (why should they have to?) they are not Japanese citizens. They can't vote. To the Japanese, they are not Japanese. And because of that, they always introduce themselves as "Puruvian" or "Korean" and such. But if they went back to that country, they would feel far more out of place, and as often as not the people there would not consider them to be essentially "Puruvian" or "Brazilian" and such others. So I guess they're in a sort of ethnic limbo with no country that will claim them. Why is this a problem? I think people essentially long to be identified with a particular group, and it's not fair to deny them that, let alone the right to vote, hold office, etc. Japan really needs to get their act together on this. In another fifty years, at the current rate of immigration and lack of Japanese babies, Japan will be an "immigrant country." Japan can`t afford to have a tenth of even a quarter of its population not be citizens. So what if they don`t have a Japanese last name? They study foreign languages for at least six years in school; if they can`t pronounce foreign last names, that`s their problem! If you`re born in a country, you should be the citizen of that country! That`s what I believe, anyway.
This is the largest area in which Japan needs to reform. The second is foreign language education. The Japanese have this writing system called "Katakana." It is used to spell foreign words, but the problem is, it is just like their original hiragana syllabary, which is a collection of consonant sounds followed by vowels: "ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, sa, shi, su, se, so, ta, chi, tsu, te, to" etc. They learn this before they ever learn English, so if you transliterate katakana, they learn to pronounce their frist English words like this: "Herro, Hoto, coldo, cato, dogo, runningu, joggingu, rearry, Makudonarudo (McDonalds), Donoldo Ducku (Donald Duck) Engrish," etc. The pronounce my own state “Okurahoma” and my name “Lolo Popu” because they always insist I write them in katakana. And because they don`t learn the correct way until they are twelve or thirteen, seven or eight years later, they speak English incorrectly their whole life. It is so frustrating to work with a teacher who tells me in class, "Rerry? I lovu flesh piggu too!" That`s from a teacher with his masters in teaching English. It`s no wonder the Japanese get so frustrated when they travel abroad. No one can understand them! Here they have been studying a language WRONG for the past six years, all because they learned it wrong to begin with. If they are to make any progress in English education, they must eliminate katakana from all classes. It`s a crutch, and a broken one at that. You may say that English speakers to the same thing, but we don`t. All language textbooks written for native English speakers have standardized pronunciation and accent markings to indicate exactly how a foreign word should be spoken. Katakana doesn`t have that. By definition, it butchers any word that is not Italian or Spanish, which just so happen to have the exact same set of sounds as Japanese, except for the rolled R.
Now I realize why the Chinese are so much better than English than the Japanese. When I was studying Chinese characters out of a children`s textbook, exactly like a six-year-old Chinese child would learn it, I learned with Roman letters. Do you realize what that means? The Chinese learn Roman letters and pronunciation before they ever learn to read and write in their own language! No wonder they speak it better (on average) than the Japanese!
Anyway, sorry about that. After all that negativity on Japan, let`s talk about something positive! So I went to Mustard Seed Church with Nagoya, and it was amazing to see such a young, vibrant, Japanese church! Granted, half the members are foreign, but there were some young Japanese couples with kids too, and so many men! That was probably the most exciting thing to see. Statistically, less than 20% of Japanese Christians are male. But I would say they made up the majority there, and all of them young! That`s great, because Japan is still a society that follows the father. (On a side note, it`s not uncommon for a woman, after she`s been married awhile, to start talking to her husband with formal, polite language, and husbands to speak back with informal language. You can tell when the "honeymoon" stage is over when this switch in language occurs. The word most often used by these women for their husband is "goshujin," which literally means "master.") I`ve known many Japanese families in which the mother became Christian, and what usually happens is that she tries for years to get her husband to come, but he is too busy with work, out drinking, whatever. She either continues to come by herself, alienated from her other family members who either pay no attention to her faith or think she`s strange, crazy, and even traitorous for abandoning the family traditions, or she gives up hope and slowly slides out of faith. But if a man comes to Christ, he usually takes his family with him. That`s just the trend now, but I`m hoping it changes in multiple ways as Japan continues to modernize it`s thinking. I hope and pray that both more men will come to Christ on their own, and that more wives will be able to convince their husbands of the reality of the gospel.
It was a surprisingly short service, maybe only an hour (I`m used to two or three in most Japanese churches), and the message was very useful for both seekers and believers, discussing the historical accuracy of the Bible and why we should follow it. It was a great review for me, and I wrote down some of the statistics to use in my Thursday night class. Afterwards, we had fellowship (hung around and chatted over doughnuts) for maybe two hours. I met so many passionate Christians there, and learned that they`re a new church, less than a year old, and they already have almost fifty members! They don`t have their own building yet, but meet in a dance studio. Everyone helps unload and load everything from a van before and after. Then a group of us went to the Nagoya festival!
We were headed for an Indian restaurant and intersected the huge parade. Basically the Nagoya festival was created to commemorate three famous samurai from the Nagoya area: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. This last fellow was particularly famous, for he was a shogun over all Japan in the early 1600s and moved the capital to Tokyo. He`s also infamous for signing the Christian Expulsion Edict in 1614, which banned Christianity and expelled all foreigners. So he wasn`t a very nice guy. Anyway, we got to see the three heroes parading through the streets with their entourages of musicians, soldiers, queens, princesses, and concubines. Here's some of them:
I would have liked to stop and just watch the parade, but the others were hungry so we hurried on. At some point, we got separated from the other girls, so it was just me, Taisei, and Hideki. We saw a reenacted battle with samurai, ninja, shoguns, guns, arrows, etc. Ieyasu was not only mean, he was a cheat. He had guns and no one else did! Well, I suppose it`s not cheating to use the resources available to you. You`d be stupid to make it a “fair fight.” But the battle was over pretty fast, and you can probably guess who won. But if you decide to go, don`t stand in the street. You won`t be able to see hardly anything! Go up on the hill. I only realized that after it was over. Oops.
Well, here's a dude with swords:
We ended up eating at a good Chinese restaurant instead of the Indian place, then walked around to see the various shows, stalls, and cool places. Here's a really beautiful fountain:
The best place was probably Oasis 21, a tower overlooking the whole city with a giant, lighted fountain in the center. We rested there and swapped our favorite Bible verses and English slang. Taisei has quite a colloquial repertoire, some that I didn`t even know! Let`s bounce? I guess it means “let`s go,” but I`ve never heard it before. He spent eight months working in Australia, so that explains it. It`s refreshing to meet a Japanese speaker who doesn’t use English so formally.
Around 7:00, there were some really cool dance troops with giant flags and umbrellas and such. I think the style of dance is called Yosakoi and originated in 1954, combining elements of traditional Japanese dance with hip-hop while screaming the word “sore sore!” a lot, which means absolutely nothing. Here's a not so great picture:
I can`t really describe it, and unfortunately I didn`t get any videos because my camera was still broken (it`s fixed now)! But I posted videos on it before or you can look it up on youtube if you really want to see it. It`s quite impressive!
Then we saw a really cool dance from one of the Northern prefectures. Taisei got a video. Here it is:
Take a closer look at the weird hat ladies:
There was also a really funny dance about a man flying two kites. The "kites" were men dressed in colorful shirts and mimed flying around, swooping, getting tangled, crashing, and rising again in reaction to their master pulling and tugging on invisible strings. It was really funny!
After the children, women, and men danced, they invited everyone in the audience to join them! Of course I had to jump right in! What fun! Hideki and Taisei were bantering back and forth in Japanese that I`m so child-like. “Hey,” I said, “I can understand what you`re saying, you know!” But I guess I shouldn`t be offended. “Child-like” is not like childish in English, it`s almost a compliment in Japanese, like young and energetic. Then it was time to go home. I got in around midnight and crashed, getting up early the next morning for work. Staying up late two nights in a row was not good for me. I`ve been tired all week. But it was fun! I just won`t be doing it again any time soon.
Until next time, keep praying and loving, no matter what the cost
Laura Popp (L. J. Popp)